I've already described how I bought my first and second machines. In early 2015, I got in touch with an ex-amusement machine operator. He had operated pinball machines and other arcade games for decades, at one stage having over 400 pinball machines in operation. This guy had now decided to sell his entire inventory of video games, pool tables, jukeboxes, and pinball machines. He had ten pinball machines left to sell, out of his original inventory of several hundred. The problem? He was near Maclean, in far northern New South Wales, near the Queensland border. I was in Sydney. Just over 700 kilometres away!
At this point in my pinball career, I was still very new to pinball, and pretty very much blinded by my obsession with it. Not many people would even think about hiring a truck and driving for eight hours (each way) to inspect a bunch of pinball machines being sold by an unknown person in an unknown condition. That was crazy. Yet, that's exactly what Fiona and I decided to do. From the outset, we knew we were totally out of our league. Buying our first few machines was simple. We just had to disassemble the cabinets, load them into our own car, and drive them home. This was a different ball game, and needed some planning.
One of the first things to consider when planning a trip like this is transport. When buying a machine that you can fit into your own car, there's not much else you need to bring except for some moving blankets and rope. Once you start moving more machines that that at the same time, you need a truck. In our case, we hired a three-ton Mitsubishi Canter truck from Thrifty.
I toyed around with the cheaper option of using a large trailer, but decided against it. Save yourself the hassle and hire a truck. That way you won't need to worry about weatherproofing the trailer or securing the games as thoroughly. The bigger the truck, the better. However, make doubly sure that it can hold the maximum number of games you're going to transport. We transported eight games back home with us. There is enough space in a standard three-ton truck to lay about seven games on their bases, with space left for one more game standing upright on its rear. This is how we ended up packing our truck, with plenty of moving blankets to go around. That said, people have come up with a lot of interesting ways to transport games:
Whatever you use, make sure it has enough space for the number of games you want to move. You don't want to end up like this guy:
The second thing to consider is insurance. Cargo or freight insurance policies are designed to cover the loss of goods during transport. Take out a policy for the trip so in case anything happens, the cost of the machines will be covered. Policies that cover single trips are available from a few insurers, but shop around as prices will vary. If you're doing a big move in one go, get cover for just a single trip. If you're doing several moves over several days, you can purchase policies that cover that, too. In any case, discuss your precise needs with your insurer or broker. I took out a Single Transit Inland Cargo policy offered through Freight Insurance Services International, which covers the transport of goods over land. It cost under $150 for the single trip and covered the entire value of the purchase. Other than that, all you need to worry about is food and accommodation.
The seller gave us a very disjointed list of machines that were for sale. He sent the list in parts over several emails, leaving us to piece together what machines were actually for sale. Eventually, we compiled a list of machines we were expecting to see (and potentially buy):
Typically, when people launch themselves into crazed pinball adventures like this one, they're exposing themselves to a lot of risk. Either the machines are in much worse condition than they were originally advertised, or the seller decides that they will not sell them except at a higher price. These aren't surprises you want to have after a full day of driving to the seller's location. Be upfront in your initial communications with the seller about your intent to buy, and expect that they be upfront about the machines they are selling. That way, the chances of disappointment are minimised (but not eliminated). Pictures speak a thousand words in these cases. However, getting pictures is hard if the seller just isn't very good at taking photographs. We did manage to get some photos of some of the machines:
As bad as the photos were, they showed some detail and let us estimate the condition of the machines in general. But we only had photos of four machines. Some of the machines were actually still out on site while we were organising things with the seller. That is, they were still on location, earning coin. The only machine on site that we had pictures of was Judge Dredd.
Remember how I mentioned you shouldn't travel to see a machine if you don't even have pictures of it? Well, I ignored my own advice in this case. Stupid me threw caution to the wind and decided it would just be easier to drive eight hours and look at all of the machines myself. At the very least, I rationalised it by saying that it would average out to only an hour of travel time for each machine... as long as I bought all ten machines! Sometimes the risk is worth it, sometimes not. That's something you have to decide for yourself.
So we set out on a hot Saturday afternoon. We were cautiously optimistic. The drive was long and the Pacific Highway is a boring drive at the best of times. We arrived late in the day and met the seller at his warehouse, where he'd stored hundreds of arcade games, cabinets, spare parts, and of course, the pinball machines. Unfortunately, I didn't even take any pictures of the machines when I inspected them. Too busy stressing over whether or not they were worth buying or not!
Straight away, there were a couple of curve balls to deal with. For one, the Terminator 2 the seller was "selling" didn't actually exist. He'd mistaken it for another machine. This was a real bummer because Terminator 2 was a title that I was keen to get a hold of.
Instead, there was an extra machine that he hadn't told us about - Shaq Attaq (Gottlieb, 1995). Shaq Attaq was just not a fair substitute for a Terminator 2. Plus, there was a huge amount of wear above the flippers on Shaq. Areas at least 3x3 cm above each flipper were worn right down to the wood. Not good. While the game seemed to work just fine, this type of playfield repair wasn't something I was confident in doing at the time. So Shaq was off the list as I couldn't justify the asking price. A lot of people give Shaq Attaq crap for being a lame game. I can't really judge, because I only played it for a few minutes as I was looking it over. However, I thought the sound and music sounded awesome. To each their own!
Secondly, there was the Demolition Man. Having finished restoring a Demolition Man just recently, I was in a pretty good position to say what kind of condition the machine was in. And this one was... weird. For starters, the gun handles on the sides of the cabinet were blue. Not just painted blue, but they were coated with some kind of blue polymer material - not quite metal and not quite plastic in feel. They were in good condition and wouldn't wear like the original chrome paint, but why the hell were they blue? The seller advised that they were originally like that from the factory, but I don't think so. The second issue with Demolition Man was the playfield. The red and orange colours, particularly the borders around the inserts, were heavily faded to a pinkish colour. My playfield at home was nice and bright, so it was interesting to see how a bit of playfield fade can alter the look of a game. So Demolition Man was off the list as well.
The rest of the machines were all mechanically and electrically in relatively good condition. We went over them systematically. First, we checked the cabinets. Then, the backboxes and circuit boards. Then, the playfields. Finally, the underside of the playfields and the inside of the cabinets. This is the most efficient way of going over a pinball machine: from outside in. We had a checklist of issues relating to each machine and a sort of pros/cons list which we basically used to determine which machines were worth buying. This was eventually developed into the restoration guide I still use today.
All machines were in dire need of a thorough clean and service, needing switch adjustments of some kind, motor rebuilds, flipper refurbishments, some circuit board work, and other miscellaneous repairs. Of course, almost all of the rubbers and lamps needed replacing. But most of the parts were present and I could play a game on all of them without too much issue. So, in the end, we decided to take eight machines, leaving the Demolition Man and Shaq Attaq behind. The prices for the remaining machines were agreeable to both me and the seller, so we began our eight-hour return trip with the following machines in the back of the truck:
Posting a description of each of the machines and what was wrong with each would be boring to read, so I'll be making separate blog posts covering the repair and refurbishment of each of these games, so watch the restoration blog for details!
Truth be told, I was very lucky with the machines I bought on this trip. The images and descriptions I received when I was first talking to the seller were not very good, nor was the seller's overall communication. Both were red flags. Today, I walk away from some deals because the seller or the machines they are selling are dodgy. But in this case, the seller was solid, and the deal turned out OK.
When moving a large number of machines like this, you need to have a trolley or jack of some kind to move them around on. Obviously, a truck with a tail lift makes them infinitely easier to load, but getting the machines to the truck can be a hassle in and of itself. So don't forget to bring a trolley of some kind to move the machines around on. We brought along a scissor lift trolley that worked quite well; check out the restoration guide for details on trolley types.
The drive back home was a long one, but uneventful. We talked plenty about which machines we would be keeping and which machines we would be selling (to try and pay back the cash we borrowed to buy them all!). When we arrived back home around 1:00 am the next morning, we were totally buggered. We unloaded the truck and got everything into the garage for the night; it was a bloody long day and we couldn't wait to get to bed. I still had to go to work the next day!
But I was the happiest guy in the world. I'd just bought eight pinball machines, a few of which I would get to keep, and went halfway across the state on a crazy pinball adventure with my (unendingly patient) girlfriend. The next few years would be spent learning about, restoring and playing the hell out of these machines. The adventure had only just begun!
Here you will find logs of our pinball machine restorations, repairs, discussion about general pinball topics, and recounts of our random pinball adventures.
Check back regularly for updates!
Running this website is a hobby for me, just like pinball. I like being able to show my restoration work to everyone so that others can learn from it and learn to fix their own machines. If you enjoy reading the content, please consider donating to offset some of the website's operating costs.